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A Dangerous Profession: A Book About the Writing Life

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A book by Frederick Busch

Part memoir, part literary criticism, novelist Frederick Busch'sA Dangerous Professioncould serve as a warning to post on the door of every creative-writing program in the nation. Take, for instance, Busch on the glamour of the writer's life: "Yes, the … see full wiki

Tags: Books, Cafe Libri
Author: Frederick Busch
Publisher: Broadway
1 review about A Dangerous Profession: A Book About the...

Busch gets inside the writer's mind

  • Sep 1, 2000
The very title is a challenge. "A Dangerous Profession." About writing? What's so dangerous? Suffocation by towers of manuscripts? Rejection of your work by editors? Paper cuts? Who does Frederick Busch think he is; Richard Branson?

No, what this university author's talking about in this collection of pieces are those writers who take risks with their works. Not to write the next potboiling, page-turning best-seller, but something more lasting and more personal. These are writers who live out their lives according to a sort of literary DNA, doing what they must at whatever cost to themselves.

There's Herman Melville, who felt himself finished at age 33 because the book he believed in, "Moby Dick," had earned him "the scorn of reviewers -- they questioned his sanity as well as his skill -- and, by the end of his life, a total of $157." There's Graham Greene's exquisite career writing about how we betray love, loyalty, ourselves. Or, as Busch puts it: "follies were his subject matter, finally -- how, in love, we betray the beloved; how, worshiping God, or a god, or a hope of one, we betray that hope or wish; how, striving to do good, we cause damage."

There's Charles Dickens, whose "David Copperfield" is nothing less than a novel about writing and the power of the written and spoken word can hold over its audience. The novel is also a reflection of the man himself, who carried on stage readings of his works that would leave him exhausted and probably hastened his end. That's writing capable of killing.

But Busch doesn't sustain the promise implied by the title, so the book's not a dirge. He leavens it by including essays on bad popular writing and bad literary criticism, memoirs recalling his early literary career, and a short humorous look at the writer's life from the point of view of the (usually) long-suffering wife.

It's tough to explain to someone who doesn't write why putting words on paper can be so difficult, why writers can turn into divas in their self-absorption and why those who work so hard to become so good seem capable of sacrificing so much. Busch's look at the writing life reminds us why it is so.

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